The Allure of a Parisian Romance

The infamous Parisian romance has lured hopeful lovers to this white and golden city for many years.  The sparkling Eiffel Tower is the flame and all of us love-starved people are moths, hoping that if we drink enough wine, prepare enough picnics, and go on enough dates in Romantic Paris, “it” will happen.  We’ll somehow feel the love of Paris wash over us.

What people oftentimes don’t realize is that Paris creates romance for us.   It makes love seem easy–much too easy.  The perfectly manicured Jardin des Tuileries neglects the complications of being close to someone.

Light summer breezes carry the soft sounds of the French language to your ears, helping you forget what it feels like to truly open up to another person.  Croissants on Île de la Cité, watching the sunrise over Paris, should feel wonderful.  Then later, watching the sunset as you stroll hand in hand with an attractive Frenchman should delight you, make the tips of your fingers tingle.  Movies have taught us that these moments should feel a certain way, that the romantic moments should feel romantic as well.  But I’ve found myself walking hand in hand with people, enjoying the romance of the city, waiting to feel love wash over me, and wondering why I didn’t care about the person beside me.  We all fall prey to the trap, believing that the French music, or the steps where Owen Wilson was whisked off to the 1920’s, will help us fall in love.

Granted, dating is surprisingly easy in the city.

For one, we have Tinder.  Don’t judge Tinder too harshly, people.

From what I’ve gathered my last, oh, day or so here, Tinder has a pretty negative reputation in the US.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, Tinder is an easy-to-use dating app.  It’s literally the most superficial one to date.  You simply swipe left if you don’t like someone’s picture, and right if you do.  If two people both “swipe right” for each other, it’s a match, and you’re able to contact that person on the app.  Then, if things get REALLY heated, you oftentimes become Facebook friends.  I know.  Big stuff.

It’s becoming more and more popular in the states, particularly in larger cities, but it’s all the craze in Paris.  Every single friend had a Tinder account.  For a while, none of us really talked about it.  All of the sudden everyone just had a suspicious amount of dates…

I have two good friends who developed meaningful relationships from meeting people online.  And honestly, in a city where you don’t know anyone, it’s a great way to just go meet people so you don’t sit in your absurdly small apartment feeling mildly claustrophobic and lonely.  Just embrace the fleeting moments with strangers.

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My personal dating experiences range from comical to disgusting.  Here’s just a brief sampling of what I’ve experienced in terms of dating in Paris, and what you could expect if you’re simply willing to meet people.

  1. There was The Brazilian who professed his undying love after only one bottle of Burgundy.  Really, at LEAST give it two.
  2. The First Frenchman who expected sex after an hour-long coffee date.  Not worth my time.  I’ve found this to be somewhat of a trend, though.  I hate to stereotype but honestly, the French might just have more sex than us.  Really.
  3. Then we get to The Romanian so concerned with his nationality and the unseemly prejudice he’s subjected to across Europe that he lied about his nationality. Bad start, buddy.
  4. But nobody compared to “The Last Frenchman.”  Oh The Last Frenchman. It began simply enough.  I had just bought a baguette and some cheese for my dinner and was exploring the 15th arrondissement nearly two weeks before leaving the city.  He passed by, chanced a quick glance, and did a complete 180 in a cartoon-like, legs-extending-further-than-they-should fashion.  That should have been my first clue as to what the evening had in store for me.

“May I accompany you?” he asked.  Well.  We were walking in the same direction and he resembled Marius from Les Mis so just this once, I accepted.

Within the first five seconds of meeting, he described himself as a man of poetry, a soul of the arts, a Frenchman true to his artistic nationality.  We then spent the next three hours discussing Monet vs. Manet, and Renoir and Van Gogh. It sounds splendid…right?

I wanted it to be.  I hoped it could be.  But honestly, I felt like someone had plopped me in a very poorly written movie.

The lighting of Paris was perfect; sunlight filtered through a grey sky, casting an array of color on illuminated trees and patches of grass that stretched from Invalides to le pont Alexandre III.  But it didn’t matter.  After about an hour or two, I began to feel a little jittery. I had exhausted my reservoir of Monet/Manet knowledge and was at my “I just want to go home and watch Firefly” point.  (RIP.  Look it up).

This man’s attempt to remind me that he possessed a soul of the arts every two minutes didn’t feel real.  Eventually I didn’t feel like I was having an actual conversation anymore.  It couldn’t have been real.  That’s just it. The romance of Paris, the overwhelmingly romantic urge to hold hands and stroll so you can gaze at these stunning sites together, is artificial at best. It can stifle you. Trick you. Make you believe in something false–like a piece of coal coated in silver flakes.

It’s something you don’t expect from la ville de l’amour; the city will deliver you romance in spades but to expect anything else, to expect anything from those romantic moments, is foolish.

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I suppose my one bit of advice for anyone moving to the city is simply this: Be prepared for unexpected, serendipitous excursions. Be prepared to meet people and be stunned by the wonderful little moments with strangers. But don’t let Paris trick you. Don’t let it make you believe in something that lacks substance, simply because the melodic laughter of Parisians at midnight drugs you, coats your mind.

Besides, as Frightened Rabbit wisely reminds us, “It takes more than fucking someone you don’t know to keep yourself warm.”

So back to The Last Frenchman.  Eventually, I explained in the gentlest manner possible that I preferred to walk home alone.

“Mais pourquoi?”  But why?

“Ahh, well I need to call my mom,” I lied.

“Don’t worry, I’ll accompany you anyways.”

Yes.  Yes I was sooo worried. “No really, I just want to walk home alone now,” I replied more forcefully.  It was like speaking to a child in a toy store–too distracted looking at all the pretty things to hear me.

Finally, he shrugged The French Shrug. I thought he had abandoned the quest.  But no.  No, there was more.  “Well zen I get your phone number?”

“Umm, no.”

“No?”

“No.”

Then, without a hint of sarcasm, anger, or forcefulness, he said with pure befuddlement, “You mean…you mean you do not want to make love to me?”  I’ve never seen a more crestfallen face.  I barely knew how to respond. I’ve rejected plenty of men–most of them creepy people on the street asking to have sex.  I’ve experienced feigned disinterest, anger, frustration, dejection, but I have never seen anybody so utterly shocked at a rejection.

The romantic facade of the day was shattered in one simple moment. The charade of courting, of genuine communication, vanished, and I remembered: I’m still in Paris.  And from my experience, French people, not just men, are so open about sex that they expect it from strangers.  They expect it on first dates and are sometimes shocked when you don’t comply.  Multiple dates of mine, all of them French, sighed at the end of the night after I told them to put away their condoms, “Ahh yes, that’s right, you’re American.  Americans never sleep with us when we first meet.”  To be clear, I have no opinion of what other people do or don’t do.  My point is simply that Frenchmen can be overly presumptuous and rude, but sometimes, the culture is simply different here, and people need to be aware of it if they’re planning on entering the dating scene.

I love this city with all my heart.  Just remember both the cultural differences and what it can do to you!

Being in love in Paris won’t magically happen just because Paris is filled with romance.  Romantic nights happen to all of us in Paris, but then you’ll open your eyes and see the face of a stranger.  They’ll look without seeing anything.  The moments are romantic–nothing more, nothing less.  They lack substance or meaning.  They’re all dream-like in a way, taking on a story-like quality–a whimsical, serendipitous experience.  But those moments don’t matter in the morning.  They don’t matter on long train rides alone with your thoughts, laying awake in bed, or sitting by the river, watching the fairy lights dance in the trees.

The city is beautiful in its own right.  Go have a relationship with the city.  But don’t expect it to provide the true romance you’re seeking.  Emotions develop the way they do anywhere else, and it’s lovely, and meaningful, and happens in non-romantic ways, non-Parisian ways: knowing someone too well, drinking tea together, watching films, or attempting to make a meal in a 10 meter squared apartment.

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And then,

If you’re lucky,

You won’t expect romance at all.

You’ll learn to expect nothing but meaningless flings and entertaining stories to drunkenly relay over a bottle of Bordeaux.

But you’ll realize…

The most romantic moments in Paris aren’t the ones you’ll see in movies

Or find on postcards;

They’re just like everywhere else,

Where one night

You’ll open your eyes and know

Without words or reason

Or any specific indicator of change

That the person looking back suddenly means so much more,

That you’re looking at the only one you’ll remember,

The only one who mattered.

And it won’t be because you strolled through French gardens together or chased each other up the steps of Sacré Coeur.  Romantic as they may be, those moments only matter in the moment.  They’re fleeting and ephemeral, barely scraping the surface of our souls.

It will simply be because you met someone who changed you, who found a spot in your heart.  Paris can create romance for you, but it can’t create depth.  That you need to find on your own.  And only when you do will you feel Paris wash over you.

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